Here’s a collection of music that fulfills the promise of the globalization of art in a way that commerce has yet to achieve. Here’s a showcase of talent and creativity that from the opening Kronos-like string riff to the live-recorded encore (“Sympathique”), is unlucky in love (another universal condition!) but excels as an Invitation to the Dance that can’t be refused. Here’s a welcome addition to anyone’s collection for the only constant on this disc is change: language, instrumentation, pulse and feel.
The glue to this fifteen track cornucopia of styles comes from China Forbes (lead vocal, lyrics, music) and Thomas M. Lauderdale (piano, music, lyrics). Forbes has a voice that engages from the git go and is convincing in any language. Une vrai chanteuse in “Autrefois,” (with its funky rhythm in stark contrast to Paloma Griffin’s soaring violin and the Mahler Symphony No. 1/Star Trek motif) she occasionally (“Let’s Never Stop Falling in Love”) gets trapped in registers just slightly out of reach. Nevertheless, her Ode to Astrud Gilberto (“Aspettami”) is a pleasure throughout—only a few more interventions from the ever-capable guitarist, Dan Faehnle could improve that track.
For his part, Lauderdale stays just back of the spotlight, but his contributions most certainly inspire his colleagues to greater heights. “Lilly” is the perfect example: its infectious atmosphere never lets up, setting the stage for Gavin Bondy’s hot, fluttery solo.
The numbers are ordered in waves. The searing crests (“Dansez-vous”—featuring the earthy liquid tone of Timothy Jensen’s baritone sax, “U plavu zoru” unstoppable momentum replete with Villa-Lobos “Oh” and Douglas Edward Smith’s finely brushed train, and “Una Notte a Napoli” whose angels include The Royal Blues of U.S. Grant High School and the Harvey Rosencrantz Orchestra) are the heady foils to the calmer troughs leading to and away from them.
Notable are the street-scene ambience (complete with Heinz, the barking dog) in “Anna (El Negro Zumbon),” “Véronique,” Robert Taylor’s double duty as vocalist and trumpeter produces a homogeneity of style that is thoughtfully compelling, and “Kikuchiyo to Mohshimasu,” whose all-male Japanese chorus, koto and organ treats the aural palette to yet another layer of timbre (still, a modulation would be as welcome as needed rain).
In many ways, the pick of the crop is the title track, “Hang on Little Tomato.” Norman Leyden’s clarinet (a marvellous combination of Pete Fopuntain’s flexibility and Acker Bilk’s sense of style) is a constant delight. He’s ably supported by Lauderdale, Smith and Phil Baker (double bass) who prove themselves to be masters of the notion that a good rhythm section ought to be more felt than heard. Once Forbes joins in, the chart moves up another notch and the easy interplay between the leads is as wonderful as it is too brief: more, please!
The recording team should also take a bow. Almost everything is superbly balanced and voiced. Only a tad more presence of the strings in “U plavu zoru” and a smidge less reverb in the sherbet-like “Song of the black swan,”—which was otherwise a tastefully introspective reading by cellist Pansy Chang and Lauderdale—could improve the result.
Completing the delectable package, the CD’s notes are filled with easy-to-read lyrics and a happy array of the artists at play. JWR